Banner Saga 2 Review
By Daniel Lein
Most games allow you to rampage through a game area, swinging your sword or gun willy nilly at whoever is unlucky enough to stumble into your path. Most games challenge the player to leap across buildings, engage in complex street fights, or travel a nuclear wasteland. Banner Saga 2 is not most games. Much like its predecessor, Banner Saga 2 forgoes common gaming conventions in favor of difficult choices and thought provoking tactical combat.
Banner Saga 2 is set just a few months after the devastating events of the first game. I can’t go into much detail about the story as much of its finer points depend on the choices the player made in Banner Saga one as your save data will carry over from game to game. That being said, the game does push the player to travel again as the ending of the world escalates into levels of near insanity. In comparison to its predecessor, Banner Saga 2 loses a bit on the character development front. Though there are still moments of heart and emotion strewn throughout BS2’s ten hour campaign, much of the writing and plot development is focused on lore and world building. It is a shame for there to be less character moments, but at the same time the development of Banner Saga’s world is greatly appreciated. This development gives the world a solidarity and a grounded nature as it moves into its final act.
From a gameplay perspective, Banner Saga 2 carries over all of the amazing caravan management and tactical combat from the original game while adding in a few new twists. Much like the first game, Banner Saga 2 forces the player to take control of a caravan of civilians and fighters all the while managing food and overall morale. Many of the choices the player must make are difficult in not only a physical risk reward kind of way (do you need more people or more food, for example), but also an unquantifiable morale challenge as many of the choices pull at the heart strings. Though this management portion of Banner Saga’s overall gameplay did not need tweaking, it was given a nice twist with the inclusion of Bolverk. In certain moments of Banner Saga 2 the player will take control of Bolverk, a grizzled varl who leads a group of vicious mercenaries rather than peaceful villagers. As such, the player’s responses to situations will have a much different effect than the outcomes of choices made in the more villager centric caravan. This difference persuades the player to make more aggressive choices throughout the Bolverk portions, giving a different mood overall.
Banner Saga 2 is more than just caravan management, in fact the core of the game revolves around turn based tactical combat. During these grid based Fire Emblem esque encounters the player will take control of a number units, using their abilities and attacks to defeat the opponents. These abilities and attacks focus on four simple stats: strength, armor, shield break, and willpower. Strength is representative of the units attack and health, meaning that a unit with less health can deal less damage. This usually makes the ending stages of combat hectic and exciting, though low health/attack can occasionally result in slow conclusions. The armor stat naturally protects the strength, but does so in a sort of threshold manner. By that I mean a unit can only deal damage if its strength stat is above the enemies armor stat. To circumvent this obstacle the player can choose to attack an enemy’s armor directly. The willpower stat is used to add extra points of damage to strength or armor attacks, as well as use special battle altering abilities (some of which are more useful than others). All of this combines to make a unique form of combat that allows for many different kinds of tactics. My personal favorite involved grouping armor pierces together with heavy hitters so that I could weaken an enemy’s armor then wreck it with my next turn. In addition to this deceptively simple combat is a new unit type in the way of the horse born. The horse born are centaur creatures who have the ability to move after attacking. Whether they are on your side or against you, the horse born can be used to implement gorilla tactics or simply penetrate unit groups. All of this adds to the game’s challenging combat sections which are often engaging, thought provoking, and genuinely fun. Overall, the caravan management and tactical combat of Banner Saga 2 is not only amazing, but fundamentally more enjoyable than its predecessor.
Banner Saga was beautiful drawn in a stunningly detailed style that brought out the emotion in its characters and the tone of its world. Banner Saga 2 is no different as the same artists take the reigns in delivering this gorgeous art world. In addition to the remarkable style, Banner Saga 2 also injects a significant amount of color into its world through forests and rivers, unlike the original Banner Saga, which was largely just white and green with snowy plains. The music however is much less impactful. Though Austin Wintery delivers the same emotional nordic style that he did in the first Banner Saga, the music is much less memorable this time around. Even though the music still evokes the somber emotion that a dying world deserves, there aren’t really any songs that have stuck with me now that I have finished the game.
There aren’t a whole lot of games like Banner Saga 2, well other than Banner Saga one…the point is the game is unique. It goes out of its way to present to the player a fresh world that defies fantasy conventions. It subverts conventional story telling by giving the player the power to weave their own story. It makes the management of both fighters and villagers fun and thoughtful inside and outside of battle. Speaking of battle, it presents a highly complex and tactical form of combat that is as rewarding as it is challenging. Lastly it does it all with a stunning art style, and beautiful, albeit forgettable, music. Banner Saga 2 is more than worth your time.
Banner Saga 2 earns a 8.5/10